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Jeff Sessions 'pleads' with Maryland to oppose immigration bill

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during the Daily Briefing at the White House.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during the Daily Briefing at the White House. (Olivier Douliery / TNS)

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday that the Trump administration is seeking to withhold $4.1 billion from cities and counties that limit cooperation with immigration authorities, and he called on state lawmakers in Annapolis to oppose pending legislation on the issue.

"Maryland is talking about a state law to make the state a sanctuary state," Sessions told reporters at the White House. "I would plead with the people of Maryland to understand that this makes the State of Maryland more at risk for violence and crime -- that it's not good policy."

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Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly are weighing legislation to prohibit local jails from honoring requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold an immigrant for up to 48 hours beyond when they would ordinarily be released. Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has vowed to veto that legislation if it reaches his desk.

The bill, which was approved this month in the House, would make statewide a policy the Hogan administration has already embraced in the state-run Baltimore jail: Undocumented immigrants booked for a crime cannot be held longer than non-immigrants for the same crime unless ICE provides a warrant signed by a judge.

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So-called detainer requests, issued by ICE employees, are different than warrants, which are signed by a judge and must meet the probable cause standard.

The Maryland Attorney General -- and several federal appeals courts -- have said that holding an undocumented immigrant beyond their scheduled release violates the Constitution.

Communities may -- and Baltimore does -- alert ICE when an immigrant of interest is scheduled for release so that federal agents can pick that person up as they walk out of state custody. An earlier version of the state legislation would have prohibited that communication, but the weakened measure approved by the House no longer does.

The Trump administration has made cutting federal funds to so-called "sanctuary cities" a central theme of its immigration policy. Trump signed an executive order in January that threatened to withhold funding from jurisdictions that do not follow federal law requiring communities to "communicate" with ICE.

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Sessions cited that same federal law in his remarks Monday.

Legal experts say the requirement for "communication," does not extend to a requirement to detain immigrants. It is not clear whether, absent a federal law, the Trump administration has the legal authority to pull funding from sanctuary jurisdictions.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a report on sanctuaries last week that named Montgomery and Prince Georges counties but made no mention of Baltimore, where the policy is broadly consistent with those other jurisdictions.

The department has not responded to requests from The Baltimore Sun to explain why Baltimore was not included on that list.

Baltimore County was listed as a jurisdiction that had released an undocumented immigrant this year despite the person being charged with drug trafficking. The county has declined to discuss that specific case.

"Baltimore County adheres to the Constitution and to sound policing practices that maintain community trust among residents we are obligated to protect," Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said in a statement Monday. "Like the Muslim ban, I am confident the courts will strike down the Attorney General's counter-productive threat."

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